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School CP - April 2011

Corpun file 23252

Bay of Plenty Times, New Zealand, 4 April 2011

Schools fall to anarchy without tough discipline

Guest editorial by Bob Grant

Tauranga's Bob Grant is a retired school principal. Photo / Supplied.

Bullying. We have to restore tough school discipline before we can defeat it. As New Zealand schools become ever more disruptive, the problem of bullying is growing worse. Vicious behaviour towards other pupils is now all too common; not only sustained verbal abuse but even serious physical assaults.

In England, as reported in London's Daily Express, on November 14, 2005, so deep is the crisis that classrooms are now occupied by an epidemic of bullying and a substantial increase in unruly behaviour.

Permanent expulsions have sky-rocketed and most of them are for violence and threats against teachers and pupils.

Are we in New Zealand heading down the same track? Teachers have already acknowledged the worrying scale of bullying in our schools. Suspensions and expulsions have reached record levels and schools are now awash with "bullying policies" and "action plans" and calls for "zero tolerance".

But this frenzy of concern has failed to address the central reason for the explosion in bullying, and this is the utter collapse of any structure of discipline in schools.

Over recent years there has been a disturbing reluctance to impose order on difficult pupils and to deal robustly with their actions.

In a civilised setting the vulnerable are protected, but in a climate of no real discipline the bully is allowed to flourish.

Children need a strong morale, frameworks and rigorous guidance but, tragically, through the withdrawal of formal discipline, we are creating our own problems.

All forms of meaningful punishment from the strap to the cane to detention have been outlawed, with the result that difficult pupils have nothing to fear when they behave badly.

Almost the only sanctions left are suspension and expulsion, but for those who despise school such methods are appealing rather than threatening.

Political correctness is threatening the fabric of New Zealand society. The concept of children's rights has weakened the attempt to impose discipline. Fear of the bully is not just a problem for school students - it now runs right through our cowardly approach to youth justice.

Click to enlarge

This eagerness to appease youthful violence has been assisted by social trends such as outlawing any form of smacking of children in the home as a corrective method. There is a failure to recognise the difference between a corrective smack and child abuse.

Another trend is the collapse of the traditional family and the rise of single parenthood, which has left many youngsters, especially boys, without role models or masculine discipline.

I would like to relate an experience I had as the principal of a large intermediate school of about 850 pupils. We always ran a tight ship and had little in the way of wayward behaviour, until a boy arrived at our school who was a junior leader in a local gang. He was a big, strapping lad of 13. By boasting, bullying and coercion he established a group of followers in the school and he became aggressive and extremely rude to teachers, and his language to them was absolutely disgusting.

He was like a pied piper with his group of followers, which was growing by the day. Many teachers were frightened of him and school discipline and tone was taking a nosedive. It was a serious situation. I could have expelled him but that would only pass the problem on to someone else.

We decided to call in all the "childcare" agencies to help. We had the youth aid police officer, the special education specialist, the educational psychologist and the social welfare officers, and we ended up having a family conference with a judge and all agencies concerned.

To cut a long story short, nothing worked and we were becoming desperate. Finally at a meeting of male staff we decided that the next time he played up I, as principal, would give him a good strapping. I visited his father and told him of our decision.

The next morning as the students were lining up to go into assembly he put on a big act and was extremely rude to the teacher in charge. I came up behind him and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and the seat of his pants and "wheel-barrowed" him through the adjoining door into my office before he really realised what was happening.

When he saw what was going to happen he went as white as a sheet and started to scream. Although the students couldn't see into my office they could hear the screams and, as one teacher reported, a deathly hush came over the school.

I gave him a strapping, put him in my car and took him home to his father. I thought we would never see him again but, lo and behold, he turned up at school the next morning and we never had another peep of trouble out of him.

You can call it respect or fear or whatever, but the fact remains that punishment worked when everything else failed.

I can hear the do-gooders saying I should be charged with assault and that I would probably like corporal punishment back in our schools. Yes, I would, but under strict conditions. I would be against every teacher having the right to use corporal punishment - rather I would like to see one mature teacher in every school responsible for administering any punishment and then only after a thorough investigation. I don't believe it would be used often, as corporal punishment has strong powers as a deterrent in a school.

If we follow what is happening in Britain, it won't be long before there is complete anarchy in some of our schools.

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